By Naomi Hatch
Members of the Snowflake and Taylor town councils approved moving forward with an intergovernmental agreement last week covering fire and emergency services.
The subject was opened by an update from the Snowflake Fire Department Review Committee.
Committee Chairman Terrill Kay introduced Greg Brimhall, Bob Flake, Joe Bjorn, and Councilmen Kerry Ballard and Tom Poscharsky, who made up the Snowflake committee.
The committee, which has been meeting since 2012, was organized to review the current fire department to see if there were other options to improve services and reduce the burden on the town’s general fund.
“Our committee has worked extremely hard in understanding fire and EMS,” said Kay. “The thing I learned the most was the sacrifice these ladies and gentlemen make in protecting our community.”
Many volunteer firefighters and EMT’s were in the audience, and he thanked them for their dedication.
“Our job was to figure out ways of preserving and bettering the departments in the Snowflake area, and then we looked at combining with Taylor to see how we could better serve our towns,” he said. “We had a lot of debates.”
They were unanimous in agreement, though, that at this time the community would be best served by both towns working together under an intergovernmental agreement (IGA).
Taylor Councilman Lynn DeWitt chairs the Taylor committee, which includes Clay Wood, Brad Click, Jared Hatch, Kent Hall and Councilman Carl Cosper.
DeWitt said that they have been meeting for almost a year with Snowflake’s committee, and noted that there was a lot of talk, some heated discussion and very strong opinions. “You can rest assured,” he said, “we covered a lot of ground. I’m thankful for the opportunity to see different sides of this.”
The options that were identified and reviewed were the creation of a town emergency services tax and the creation of a fire district, both a Snowflake district, and a combined district serving Snowflake and Taylor.
“It was determined that the two committees needed to focus on the option of combining the fire and EMS (emergency services) to see what benefits that might bring without asking for a new tax due to the current economic conditions of these two towns,” backup material noted.
The committees are in unanimous agreement to recommend that fire and ambulance services for Snowflake and Taylor be brought together under an agreement that is similar to the police services agreement for the following reasons: to improve overall service and quicker response times with an additional fulltime crew; to improve morale and camaraderie overall; to improve trainings and emergency scene operations; to share and provide better use of equipment for both towns; and there is strength in numbers, meaning a bigger pool of response personnel for all situations.
“What we would seek tonight is to know if the councils…approve to proceed in coming up with an IGA for both fire departments in both towns,” said Taylor Town Manager Gus Lundberg.
He highlighted what he and Snowflake Town Manager Paul Watson felt would be the appropriate things to address, which he noted would begin July 1 with the formation of an administrative committee be formed similar to the one in place for the combined police, which is comprised of the mayors, vice mayors, town managers and town attorneys of Snowflake and Taylor. The Town of Taylor will handle the day to day things, such as personnel and implementation of the budget, much as Snowflake handles those for the police department.
The budget revenues will come from wildland fires, the current budgets for the ambulance, Snowflake Fire Department and Taylor Fire Department. The remainder of the expense would be split 55 percent to 45 percent, the same percentages as the police department.
The Town of Snowflake would retain the debt service on the Snowflake Fire Station.
The current assets of each department would be catalogued and tracked, and future assets acquired would be identified in the agreement in case the agreement is terminated in the future.
“How grateful I am that both towns (established) committees,” said Snowflake Mayor Kelly Willis. “I feel very good about what Lynn (DeWitt) and Terrill (Kay) said.” He noted that he also felt good about the cross-section of people that served on the committees. “All have the love and concern of their community.”
“The work of the committee is done and we release them and thank them, we thank them for their perseverance,” said Taylor Mayor Fay Hatch.
The Snowflake council and then the Taylor council unanimously approved motions to move forward with an intergovernmental agreement.
Shirley Hatch addressed the councils, noting that she read in the newspaper that Taylor was going to give Snowflake an ambulance. “I’m just concerned,” she said.
DeWitt explained that what people don’t understand is that Taylor is responsible for providing ambulance service in Snowflake, and part of combining departments will allow Taylor to put on a second day shift of fulltime ambulance staff. He explained that when they get a second call out, they have to scramble to get another crew together and stated, “This way we’ll have another ambulance available.” He went on to explain that at night if there is a call in Snowflake and responders come from Snowflake, it will make an ambulance closer and “allow us to provide better service, faster service to the other end of town.”
“What taxes will this put upon the people?” asked Hatch. “We already pay taxes for the police department. We’ll have to put up another $60,000.”
DeWitt said that it will not cost taxpayers anything.
Lundberg explained again the money that would make up the budget. “All we’ve done tonight is move forward with the process,” he said.
“You’ve got to remember one of the reasons we went to Snowflake is because we were facing some hard decisions for the Town of Taylor by ourselves,” said DeWitt. “The ambulance is understaffed and things had to change. We were going to face that hard choice anyway, so whether we do this or not, that money we were going to end up spending.”
Hatch made it clear as she looked at Snowflake council that she didn’t appreciate the fact that Taylor built up its department and Snowflake will walk in and take part of it. She said she felt an ambulance in Snowflake was appropriate, but that Snowflake should buy its own ambulance “instead of walking in when things are going.”
Hatch suggested that this be voted on by the people.
Mayor Hatch explained that there would be other meetings before the agreement is finalized and the public would have the opportunity to speak.
“I approve of my Taylor council, I voted for you,” said Hatch, but noted that she didn’t want Snowflake to come in and take over again.
“I have not been bullied. The moment I feel bullied, guess what I’m going to do, I’m going to push and I’m going to fight for my space,” said Taylor Councilman Jason Brubaker.
In other business, Watson reported on other shared services, noting that Taylor provides EMS and Snowflake provides recreation, as well as library services.
“As we move forward with creating this new IGA that existing IGA will no longer be valid,” he said. “As we develop the new IGA for EMS and fire services, we’ll also take into account the other shared services that need revisited and we will be bringing them back to you.”
Snowflake-Taylor Police Chief Jerry VanWinkle updated the councils on the police department.
He highlighted a few items in the annual report each council member received. There are 22 employees at the police department, including 14 certified officers, six dispatchers, one administrative assistant and one animal control officer, who cover more than 60 square miles in Snowflake and Taylor. He reviewed the projects the police department is involved with, and the community outreach and special events in which it participates.
The chief said they have one reserve police officer, Chase Carlton, who works fulltime, but paid for his own schooling, which was 600 hours and another 132 hours of field training.
They have a Volunteer in Police (VIP) program that started with eight volunteers and is down to four, who volunteered a combined total of 676.5 hours of services in 2013. They are working to get more volunteers in the program.
By Naomi Hatch